Outman legislation would improve local responses to mental health emergencies

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Wednesday approved legislation sponsored by state Sens. Rick Outman and Stephanie Chang that seeks to improve the state’s response to mental health-related emergencies and improve access to mental health care for those in the criminal justice system.

“Addressing mental health-related emergencies and the criminal justice system’s response is something I’ve been speaking to local law enforcement in my district about for quite some time,” said Outman, R-Six Lakes. “I think the state could provide more tools to help deal with mental health emergencies instead of just tossing the issue on the backs of our already-overworked officers.

“These bills acknowledge the overlap between criminal justice and mental health issues and take a deliberate step toward finding a better solution.”

Nearly one in four people entering Michigan jails have a serious mental illness — an issue that data shows is worse in rural counties.

Senate Bill 637 would create a Community Crisis Response Grant Program that would provide grants to assist local units of government with the implementation of alternative methods to dealing with mental health emergencies — such as sending unarmed mental health professionals to respond to behavioral health-related emergency calls. These individuals are trained to respond to such medical issues and can provide the necessary and helpful resources needed to deescalate the situation and provide meaningful care.

SB 638, which Outman sponsored, would establish the Behavioral Health Jail Diversion Grant Program for local units of government to help establish or expand behavioral health jail diversion programs that seek to keep people suffering from mental health issues out of jail.

“Keeping people with mental health challenges in jail is expensive and over time has proven to be quite counterproductive,” Outman said. “These bills encourage and help fund alternative treatment options that direct people toward more appropriate care instead of just sending them to jail without addressing the underlying issue.”

Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams praised the two bills saying they will not only help people get the care they need but also allow his deputies to focus on preventing crime and keeping communities safe.

“I appreciate Senator Outman’s effort on these bills. Jails are often a dumping ground for those with serious mental illness because there’s a lack of options available to front-line law enforcement,” Williams said. “We’ve had inmates in our jail languish for weeks and months before a treatment facility can accept them. These bills will provide resources at the local level to divert people before they get lodged in jail. This will not only save resources in the criminal justice system but will benefit the community in getting these people proper treatment.”

Outman said diversion programs have been used successfully across the U.S. and said there is a need to bring Michigan up to speed with modern methods to dealing with mental health care.

“These kinds of efforts are being used successfully across the country, and I believe we ought to improve the tools we have available here in Michigan,” Outman said. “These solutions will save lives and taxpayers money ― while also allowing law enforcement to focus on the criminal and legal matters they are trained, equipped, and ready to address.”

Both bills passed the Senate unanimously and now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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